WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Almost all U.S. doctors in a survey released on Thursday said they plan to get vaccinated against flu this season, a finding that heartened disease experts frustrated by low vaccination rates.
“Now we need to get other health care professionals to move in this same direction,” said Dr. William Schaffner of Vanderbilt University in Tennessee and president of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases.
“To all nurses, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, pharmacists and others — please, get vaccinated and recommend the vaccine to your patients.
Previous surveys have shown fewer than 40 percent of U.S. healthcare professionals as a group ever get vaccinated against influenza — even during last year’s H1N1 swine flu pandemic. Having a healthcare workforce so ambivalent about the vaccine was an embarrassment to officials.
The online survey of 400 doctors showed 95 percent planned to get a flu vaccine this season, and 96 percent said they recommend the vaccine to friends and family. The survey has a 5.8 percent margin of error.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention flu expert Dr. Dan Jernigan said 119 million doses of seasonal flu vaccine are in doctor’s offices, pharmacies and elsewhere and people should start getting the vaccines now.
This year’s vaccine protects against H1N1 swine flu and two other flu strains called H3N2 and influenza B.
Eventually this season, the CDC officials said, the five companies that make flu vaccine for the U.S. market expect to provide 150 million to 160 million doses. The five are Sanofi Aventis, GlaxoSmithKline, Novartis, AstraZeneca unit MedImmune, and CSL.
The U.S. government recommends virtually all 330 million Americans get vaccinated.
“The manufacturers have always made a supply larger than the demand and they’ve always had to throw vaccine away,” said Stephan Foster of the American Pharmacists Association.
“Our job is to increase demand.”
The CDC estimates virtually all the 115 million seasonal flu vaccine doses got used last season, but of 162 million H1N1 swine flu doses distributed, only 80 million were used.
Flu makers struggled to make a vaccine against H1N1 after it emerged initially in early 2009. By the time it was widely available in late 2009 the pandemic’s first wave had passed.
Jernigan said the CDC is trying many new ways to educate people about flu vaccines, including social media such as Facebook and Twitter.
The National Foundation for Infectious Diseases released a second survey showing that 57 percent of 1,000 Americans questioned plan to vaccinate for influenza this season.
Of those not planning to get vaccinated, 71 percent said there are other effective ways to prevent influenza, 69 percent say they are too healthy for flu to worry them and 62 percent believe the vaccine can cause the flu or side-effects.
The CDC said all those beliefs are untrue and notes that depending on which flu strains are most active, seasonal flu annually kills anywhere between 3,300 and 49,000 Americans, many of them previously completely healthy.
Editing by Jerry Norton